American Life in Poetry: Column 546


They say that when undergoing cancer treatment, the patient’s attitude is all-important. Here Robert King, a poet now living in Colorado, looks with wit and bemusement at his chemotherapy. His most recent book is Some of These Days, (Conundrum Press, 2013).

— Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

The Cancer Port

It’s called a port, a harbor, haven, home,
a city on the coast of my chest opened
for a passage into my heart—which we say
is where emotions live—and it’s embedded,

slipped into a shallow nest of flesh, a bump,
a lump under the skin on the right so
the narrow street can reach the marketplace
of the aorta, receptive to any

incoming ship, needle, boat, barge, unloading
its spices, crates of dates, barrels of poisons,
Etoposide phosphate, amethyst, amaranth,
Cisplatin, amphorae of wine and olives.

I carry it secretly under my skin
because it is easier. I carry
everything under my skin, so lightly
I barely notice, watching from the ramparts

the dangerous rocky anchorage below
where goods and evils, bundled together
and tied, arrive, waiting to be unloaded
and poured out into a welcoming country.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Barbara Crooker, “25th Reunion,” from Selected Poems, (Futurecycle Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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